Perhaps you didn’t notice the watchful yellowed eyes of Thelma and Louise from a second story bedroom window in the building adjacent from Hargreaves Hall the last time you walked to Algebra.
No, not the wacky Hollywood car-tripping Thelma and Louise, but the two furry felines whose daily lives consist of watching the flux of students back and forth from their perch at University House, a place they share with University President Stephen Jordan, and his wife, Ruthie.
When Jordan became President of Eastern Washington University in 1998, he and his wife decided to once again make the University House a traditional part of the campus by making the house their permanent residence.
University House, which was built in 1929, is one of six original campus buildings located in the EWU Historic District. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The home has about 4,320 square feet. “It is not a big house,” Ruthie Jordan said. “But it is just right for us.”
The building had not been the president’s residence since 1987. Since that time, the house had been used in various capacities, including as a faculty dining hall and a place to hold receptions. Quite a bit of remodeling had to be done to the house to make it a home once again. “It had really been used and abused,” Ruthie said.
The space that is now the living room was used as a dining space, and the walls were painted a putrid fuchsia color and filled with catering paraphernalia, including a mass of dining chairs and tables. All the floors were covered with carpet, including all doorways. They discovered that underneath the carpet lay the original hardwood flooring.
“The hardwood floors were original and needed to be out,” Ruthie said.
The Jordans wanted to bring the house back to what it was in its antiquated form. They hired contractors, who spent from about May until they moved to the house in September, restoring the home the best they could. Ruthie said they were wonderful, and really did a beautiful job.
“Returning the house back to what it was meant to be was a fun thing to do,” Ruthie said. “Everybody just loves this house so much.”
Ruthie was able to find much of the original furniture that was used in the house in the university storage. It was all found to be in excellent condition, having been cared for by various janitorial staff over the years.
They were even able to extract the original dining room set that came with the house. Etched in the leaves of the table is the year 1926. “We got lucky,” she said.
All of the light fixtures are the originals as well. They are big bowl-shaped glass ornaments that hang from the ceiling by iron chains. You can find them in the bedroom, dining room, hallways, and all three bedrooms upstairs.
The kitchen needed the most overhauling it seems. The contractors had to replace most everything, and lower the ceiling because the facilities had previously been used for industrial-type cooking and had huge fans. They replaced the floors in the kitchen with hardwood to match the original flooring. You really can’t even tell the difference between the two.
The house has many character traits of a Georgian style home, with elaborate entrances and decorative moldings. The wood around the doorways is the original, and the doors are delicately etched with design, showing signs of craftsmanship long since past. It also has some colonial essence, given away by the brick foundation and the pillars that hold up the front porch.
Aside from the glowing hardwood, tearing up the carpet also revealed unusual tile work in the front entryway. The tiles are marked by different symbols that resemble pictographs or glyphs of some kind.
“Some day some professor is going to come through here and know what they are,” Ruthie said. But none so far have noticed.
The Jordans do quite a bit of entertaining in the house, having had only about 30 to 50 people as the largest group so far inside the house.
They also held an ice cream social for parents and students in the fall, with about 650 people in attendance. The event was held outside on the newly reinforced patio space. There is a big brick fireplace in the yard attached to what must have at one time been a carriage house, and now resembles a modern day garage. And eagle was stoned into the brick in front of the fireplace. Go Eagles.
They also added a new sitting room off the backside of the house made entirely of windows. Ruthie said they really haven’t had a chance to enjoy it yet because it has been so cold.
Ruthie and President Jordan really enjoy living on campus. It is a way to be truly connected to the university and its roots in history.
She said they rarely get people coming up to the door, but that on occasion some stragglers will come up, not knowing what the building is and just generally being curious. But she said that mostly “people are so respectful of our privacy.”
Overall, the house had an amazing presence of “home.” If it ever was used as a dining hall, it was not so obvious in the presence of appearance or spirit now.
I felt it when I first came in. Maybe it was the candle burning in the kitchen that smelled of spicy pine, the knickknacks here and there, or the photos of smiling, bubbling newly welcomed grand-babies, that truly makes a house a home.
Or maybe it was the small cozy den on the backside of the house, adorned with a shelf full of golf balls from courses all over the country. “You can’t put a ball in there unless you played the course,” Ruthie said.
It may be home for the president, his wife, and all other four-legged wonders (including an occasional spider), but really, the University House is a historic treasure central to our campus community. It is a reminder of whom, and what has made our school what it is today, and how we can all strive to keep that spirit alive and be proud of our heritage.
“This is a place for the university to put its best foot forward,” Ruthie said.